Relocating to a new country can be intimidating, and one of the most important decisions for families with school-going children is choosing a suitable school. A multi-cultural environment is an advantage but can be harder for some children to adapt to.
Mainstream students have these and more challenges to deal with; and the bar only gets higher and more demanding for those with special needs. Schools and learning centres can help level these disparities through efforts dealing with the needs of students with learning difficulties and mild disabilities.
The Beaconhouse Education Group’s Beaconhouse Newlands Early Years (BNEY) is an international pre-school that accepts students with mild learning needs, many of whom successfully complete the programme. Enrolment eligibility is determined at a meeting with the Head of School, an informal assessment and a trial class period where parents may be required to provide a teaching aide to help.
Kits4Kids Malaysia is a kindergarten and special needs school offering a curriculum developed for students with learning difficulties and special needs. Their Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children comprises a syllabus for toddlers and kids aged three to seven. Kid4Kids Malaysia has centres in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Perak and Kelantan.
The International School of Kuala Lumpur’s (ISKL) campus is furnished with ramps and elevators for wheelchair-bound students. The school’s new Ampang Hilir campus, set to open in 2018, will have amenities to accommodate more students with physical disabilities.
Garden International School has ramps to the cafeteria, playground and primary office areas; and also offers small removable ramps for easy access to classrooms. Besides a wheelchair-friendly bathroom, an elevator is located in the primary school area.
Mild to Moderate Learning Disabilities
International schools like The Alice Smith School and ISKL have staff trained to assist students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, but at the end of the day, each case varies according to the individual. Separate learning support for students with dyslexia, dyscalculia and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is provided at every grade level at ISKL, according to Shelley Hawkes, a Life-Centred Education Programme teacher there.
In line with its Next Frontier Inclusion School status, ISKL’s Life-Centred Education Middle School Programme delivers individualised academic coaching and social skills training to students with diagnosed intellectual or developmental disabilities. Next year, this programme will cover elementary and high school levels thanks to the purpose-built facilities at the new ISKL campus.
Moira Hall is Garden International School’s Director of Inclusion. She says the school’s Inclusion Team – the same team that provides healthcare assistance and counselling- works with special needs students, English language learners and exceptionally gifted students. With the feedback gleaned from teachers and tutors, the team develops an individual education plan for each student and reviews it regularly to check the student’s progress.
Similarly, The Alice Smith School’s Learning Support department works with students, teachers and parents, forming individual education plans and giving one-to-one aid where needed. A full-time early intervention teaching assistant sits in on classes to identify which Foundation Stage 2 learners (aged four to five years) need help to catch up; and there’s also a speech and language pathologist that consistently monitors the same age group.
For students who may exhibit disruptive behaviour, e.g. Tourette Syndrome, there are personal learning assistants on hand to help at Garden International School. These learning assistants monitor the child’s behaviour in class, giving them sensory breaks so they can settle down and ease their way into the pace of classroom learning. Simple changes like alternative seating or standing tables have also made a positive difference for some students.
Mild to Moderate Autism & Down’s syndrome
ISKL’s Life-Centred Education Programme has been especially helpful for one Middle School student with Down’s syndrome who’s been at ISKL since the elementary years. In addition to receiving personalised academic support and help with social skills, students in this programme have a chance to utilise their math skills and interact with others by volunteering in the school store. The diversity of ISKL’s Life-Centred Education Programme has grown in recent years to include students who rank moderately on the autism spectrum.
Interaction with Mainstream Students
How well are special needs students integrated within the school system? There’s no such thing as the ideal solution as every child has different needs. Beaconhouse Newlands Early Years’ Head of School Kelly Robb says it starts with teaching kids simple social skills like how to be a friend, or even knowing when to be alone and not engaging with others initially.
Other measures, like Garden International School’s Positive Education curriculum or ISKL’s Awareness and Service Club aim to educate mainstream students on the complexities of physical or learning disabilities, hopefully giving them an idea of how better to respond to peers and family members with these disabilities.